Another parable spoke he to them; The kingdom of heaven is like to leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal…
This parable directs our attention to two points connected with the extension of Christianity. It illustrates
(1) first, the kind of change which Christianity works in the world;
(2) second, the method by which this change is wrought.
I. THE CHANGE OUR LORD MEANT TO EFFECT IN THE WORLD was to be a change not so much of outward forms as of the spirit and character of all things. The propagation of his influence is set forth and illustrated, not by a woman taking a mass of dough and making it into new shapes, but by a woman putting that into the dough which alters the character of the whole mass. There are two ways in which you may revolutionize a country or society. You may pull down the old forms of government, or you may fill them with men of a different spirit, revise the constitution, or, leaving it untouched, fill official positions with the right men. A machine refuses to work, and people tell you the construction is wrong; but the skilled mechanic pushes aside the ignorant crowd, and puts all to rights with a few drops of oil. Few distinctions are of wider application. What is pointed at is rather the regenerative than the creative power of Christ's Spirit; not so much the new facts and habits to which Christian feeling gives birth, as the new feelings and views it has about existing customs, institutions, relationships, occupations. His Spirit, he says, does not require new channels; a man does not require new arteries, but to have them filled with health-giving blood. In establishing the kingdom of heaven our Lord did not intend to erect a vast organization over against the world, but he meant to introduce into the world itself a leaven which should subdue all things to his own Spirit. It was to be without observation, hidden as leaven among meal.
II. THE METHOD BY WHICH THE KINGDOM IS TO GROW. Kingdoms have been extended in various ways, but chiefly by force, by the strong band. And the idea that men can be compelled to accept the truth seems never to be wholly eradicated from the human mind. But our Lord teaches that the extension of his Spirit throughout the world is to be by the secret unnoticed influence of man upon man. No doubt there is a direct agency of God in each case, but God works through natural means, and the natural means here pointed to is personal influence. Than this there is no mightier power. Take even the influence of those who least intend to influence you, and seem least capable of it. Think of the influence in many ways of the little child who cannot stand alone; or of those who seem wholly pushed aside from the busy world by ill health or misfortune. How we have been brought to a chastened, sober habit by their suffering; and to the recognition of what is essential and what accidental, what good and what evil in the world! For the operation of this influence there must be:
1. A mixing; that is to say, there must be contact of the closest kind between the regenerate and the unregenerate. The leaven is manifestly useless while it lies by itself. If our Lord had secluded himself in the household of Bethany, and never eaten with publicans and sinners, little of his Spirit could have passed into other men. The closeness of the intimacy, the depth of the love, is the measure of the effect produced. And in a country like ours, where what belonged yesterday to one person is today possessed by a thousand, good or evil propagates itself with the speed and certainty of contagion, the more effectually because insensibly. There is no banishment for the moral leper; no man can be evil for himself alone. This mixing is provided for in various ways - by nature, which sets us in families; by society, which compels contact of various kinds with others. Beyond these are the casual meetings we are unawares thrown into, and the voluntary friendships and associations we form. Of the first we may say, that if we cannot always choose our company we can always choose how we shall conduct ourselves in it; we can make our meeting a means of spreading the Spirit of Christ. The additions to his kingdom must be chiefly from among those who do not at present respond to Christian sentiments. For the regulation of connections which we form of our own choice the parable suffices. Can they be leavened, and by us? It is folly to argue that because some one else can go into certain company, or engage in certain pursuits and not be the worse for it, that therefore you can do so. But there is a culpable refusal to mix as well as a too great eagerness to do so. Two very opposite feelings lead to this.
(1) One is the Pharisaic contempt for, or hopelessness about, other people. A converted person often seems to forget the hole of the rock whence he was digged - what he was yesterday, and what the unbeliever on whom he scowls may be tomorrow. Or
(2) there is the opposite feeling, that our influence can only do harm. But this feeling should prompt us not to separate ourselves from the world, but to renew our connection with the leaven. If we fear to touch another lest we communicate disease, let us first touch him out of whom flows healing for all diseases.
2. But, the mixing being accomplished, how does the process succeed? The parable says - Be leaven, and you will leaven. Be a Christian, and you must make Christians or help to make them. No doubt direct address forms one great part of the means of leavening those around you, but the figure here points rather to the all-pervading and subtle extension of Christian principles than to their declared and aggressive advocacy. What is the influence of your example? If you are not leavening others, it is because you are yourself unleavened. There is no such thing as leaven that does not work. You cannot confine the perfume to the flower, or restrict the light of the sun to its own globe. It is a glorious consummation here spoken of - till "the whole is leavened. In Christ's kingdom is to be gathered all that has ever served or gladdened humanity. His Spirit is to take possession of all national characteristics and all individual gifts. And all is to be achieved through personal influence. Can you know the earnestness of Christ in this behalf, and lift no finger to help him? Is there nothing you ought to do in leavening some little bit of the great mass? - D.
Parallel VersesKJV: Another parable spake he unto them; The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.